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Trump’s opioid crisis panel calls for greater use of drug courts

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP November 7, 2017

Seven months ago, President Trump launched a commission to develop solutions to the worst drug crisis in American history — opioids. The commission, led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has just issued its recommendations. Among them are more training for doctors who prescribe the drugs, penalties for insurance companies that fail to pay for drug treatment, and the establishment of drug courts in all 93 federal court jurisdictions.

Drug courts are typically diversion programs. In exchange for successful completion of a supervised addiction treatment program, offenders can have their charges and/or sentences reduced or eliminated. The goal is to get desperate people the help they need to get off of the drug rather than pointlessly incarcerating them.

Colorado instituted drug courts nearly 20 years ago. According to the Colorado Judicial Branch, drug courts are more effective than incarceration, probation with treatment, and other strategies. In fact, they reduce both drug abuse and crime and are extremely cost-effective — more so than any other criminal justice strategy.

The federal opioid commission also recommended to President Trump that he declare a national emergency. Trump responded by declaring a national public health emergency, which gives the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to access a public health emergency fund. Unfortunately, the fund currently contains only $57,000, and neither Trump nor the commission called for any new funding.

“It’s now incumbent on Congress to step up and put money in the public health emergency fund,” said Christie.

The commission made a total of 56 recommendations. Other than those described above, the group recommended allowing more first responders to deliver overdose reversal medications such as naloxone. It also urged the White House to support the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, which would include narcotics users in a national database.

Last year, over 64,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses — most from prescription painkillers or heroin, which is chemically similar to prescription drugs like oxycodone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, misuse of prescription opioids is now the most significant risk factor for heroin use.